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First private state prison rises on Chiles' agenda

Building the state's first privately operated prison is a priority for Gov. Lawton Chiles, whose renewed efforts may move the facility off the back burner. The companies interested in constructing the prison in Gadsden County say a new request for proposals from the state Department of Corrections may give the companies the flexibility they need.

"Hopefully, in this request for proposals, they will allow the innovations the private sector can bring to the table," said Damon Smith, a lobbyist for Wackenhut Corrections Corp. of Coral Gables.

The department has required that all private prisons follow its rules and regulations, including inmate discipline, living space requirements, health care, diet and access to law libraries, said Bill Thurber, deputy corrections secretary.

Wackenhut and the other bidder for the original project, Corrections Corp. of America of Chattanooga, Tenn., both failed to provide enough cost savings for the 896-bed maximum security prison approved in the 1989-90 budget. The target was a savings of 10 percent compared to state costs.

Chiles delayed the Gadsden County prison in March, when he sent Sen. Pat Thomas, D-Quincy, a letter saying the project should be changed to emphasize rehabilitation of inmates. Chiles added that he strongly supports the private prison concept.

Richard Delahoussaye, director of business development for CCA, said the governor's support could pave the way for finally making the project a reality. But he remained skeptical of the department's rules.